by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports
The Idaho House quietly passed a bill Thursday that would dramatically overhaul the state’s public defense system.
“It removes the responsibility and liability of public defense from the backs of counties, and moves it to the state,” said floor sponsor Rep. Jon Weber, R-Rexburg.
The bill expands on legislation last session, HB 735, which created a new funding source for public defense.
“If we act now, we can lock in a dedicated funding source for this program,” said Rep. David Cannon, R-Blackfoot.
Lawmakers said it will also help address the issues at hand in Tucker v Idaho, a class action lawsuit from 2015 that alleges Idaho does not provide adequate public defense as required by the U.S. Constitution.
“Moving now, as opposed to moving later, will be beneficial to the State of Idaho,” Cannon said.
During the committee hearing on the bill, lawmakers heard a number of concerns about specific changes it would make, but on the floor they were generally supportive of the policy overhaul.
“It may not be a touchdown, but it’s a first down,” said Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise. “I think that dedicated funding source will go a long way.”
The bill passed the House in a 54-16 vote and now moves to the Senate.
The funding stream for public defense established last year under HB 735 includes some sales tax revenue which had been going to cities and counties. A property tax relief bill introduced this morning would relieve local governments of that financial commitment and have the state cover the entire cost.
Logan Finney | Associate Producer
Logan Finney is a North Idaho native with a passion for media production and boring government meetings. He grew up skiing, hunting and hiking in the mountains of Bonner County and has maintained a lifelong interest in the state’s geography, history and politics. Logan joined the Idaho Reports team in 2020 as a legislative session intern and stayed to cover the COVID-19 pandemic. He was hired as an associate producer in 2021 and they haven’t been able to get rid of him since.